Excellence in Teaching: William Mautz, Professor of Natural Resources
By Kim Billings, Advancement Communications
May 13, 2009
Perry Smith, Photo Services
He speaks for the Lorax.
The 550 students enrolled each semester in Contemporary Conservation Issues and Environmental Awareness are assured of a couple of things by Bill Mautz. First, every class begins with "hot music," which most times is Dixieland jazz. And, on the final day of the course, he will read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss out loud to them. The Lorax, a fable about human impact on the environment, was Mautz's favorite book when his three sons were little. His copy, the one he uses in class, has a very worn cover.
Mautz admits he was nervous when he first began reading the story to his class five years ago. On the surface, he says, it might not seem like a big deal for a guy to get choked up reading a kids' book. "It's easy to say, but let me tell you, this was a huge challenge for me. Fortunately, it turned out to have an equally huge reward," says Mautz. "After the first time, I was approached by two young guys working at Home Depot who said something like, "Hey doc, nice touch with the Lorax today.' And then another student I ran into at the fish market said something similar."
Generally, first-year students and sophomores take Mautz's course; 95 percent are nonscience majors. "I like the idea of exposing those in the nonsciences to current conservation issues," says Mautz. "But my single most important goal is to help them with their thought process—to contemplate questions like how do you know what you know? Who and what do you, or can you believe?"
He loves student evaluations and cherishes the ones that begin with "I did not want to take this class but I had to...and now..." or "I've always considered myself to be an anti-environmentalist but..."
"These sorts of things make me think I am being at least somewhat successful with meeting my goals for the course," says Mautz, "and this is always a good feeling."